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A Question of Time

Does it sometimes feel as if being a leader means you have no time to yourself? That sometimes you don’t get anything done in a day because your staff are forever knocking at your door to ask questions? Do you find yourself working at home just because you didn’t get everything done during the day?

If so, you are not alone. When you stepped up to leadership nobody told you that you would be in such demand did they?

Being a leader requires you to value your time differently and more importantly it requires you to value yourself differently. But lets start with time first as that is often the biggest challenge that leaders face at every level.

In the last twenty years or so the phrase ‘open door policy’ has become the norm. You’ve heard of that? I bet you use the phrase too. In fact many leaders feel that they are obliged to say that their ‘door is always open’. Its the right thing to do isn’t it? Its what you should do as a leader!

In principle the idea of an open door policy is right. As a leader you are there for your team (the word lead implies others of course) and to be there for your team when they need you.

So the principle is sound, but does the delivery match the principle? Does having your door open at all times so that anyone can come in when they need you, actually work?

Lets look at you, the leader first. Do you know your working style? Are you the kind of person that needs to complete a task before you can break your thinking from it? If you get interrupted do you often need to go back to the beginning? Do you struggle to concentrate without perfect peace? Are there some detail tasks that are not your natural style and you need to really concentrate or you make a mistake?

I have found that many thinking styles need to focus on what they are doing in order to get the best result, and that when we are doing something that is not our preferred style we need to focus even more. So interruptions might not work for you. You may need long periods of concentration or you may need short. You may need time to draft before you finalise. You may be a reflective kind of person that needs quiet thinking time. You may be a talk it out or a try it out kind of person. How you work best will be unique to you though…do you know yourself well enough to know what that is?

Lets look at your team now. How often do they need time with you? Every decision?Emergencies only? Hourly? Daily? Weekly?
How often do they need you to be immediately available? You know; ‘I have a problem and it needs sorted now’ type availability. Do they need that? or have they got used to that? Have you trained your people to think that you can be available at the drop of a hat? Does your open door policy mean ‘Always open’?

Lets put the two perspctives, of you and your team, together in to a formulae for you to think about if you have difficulty managing the time demands of your team;

How I work best + What my people need=How I organise my availability.

The outcome statement there is critical. Its good old time management. If you need thinking time, then book it in to your diary. If you need a solid two hour block to work on something then book that in too. Book time in your diary to match the way you work best and that meets the first part of the formulae.

Now you need to apply the same approach to the second part of the formulae. Take a look at what your people need from you. If you have got a good delegating habit, you will know that you need follow up to the act of delegation (to check if its done, to listen to problems, to coach for learning etc.). You might schedule regular sit down time with your staff to go through work in progress or to coach etc. You might schedule regular walk about time just to listen to your people’s problems, understand the mood in the workplace and give yourself time to see and be seen. And if you need blocks of time to work quietly yourself, you may also plan the opposite. Time that your team know they can interrupt you if they need to. Time when you are working on easy stuff, like reading e-mails or going through your own to-do list etc.

The key is to educate your people in how you work best and therefore how you can work best with them. If they are interrupting you all the time then its you that’s created the habit (by not planning time with them or not having a planned diary or by making yourself indispensable!)

Re-training yours staff means talking to them about what you are trying to do and what it means for them. They know you are busy and will be understanding of your need for some closed door time in a day, as long as its not 7.5hrs of closed door time and 0.5hrs of access time of course. You left that behind when you became a leader.

So its not really a question of time; its a question of organising your time.

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